Saturday, March 7, 2009

Dive into endive

Now that spring seems to be arriving in Virginia, I am looking forward to the opening of the farmers market. I only went a few times last year before it closed in the fall.

One of my favorite things at the Sacramento market was the little baggies of endive, often in two colors. I would use the outside leaves for appetizers, then slice up the centers and sprinkle in salads. Their bitter crispness was more than offset by a diced avocado, or a sprinkling of cheese, and made the salad more interesting.

If you find endive at a good price, especially a mixture of both colors, buy a bunch. And if you get tired of using it in salads, or smeared with a combination of blue and cream cheese for an appetizer, here's a tart by Gordon Ramsay that he says "is a lovely accompaniment to roast lamb, beef, duck or game dishes." The metric measurements in parentheses are his; I translated for U.S. kitchens. And although we use the term chicory to describe the curly-leafed green or the root that's roasted into coffee, in England it's what they call endive.

Gordon Ramsay's "chicory" tart
Serves 4 as a side dish

4-5 heads of endive (chicory)
1 tablespoon (
25g) butter

2 tablespoons superfine (golden caster) sugar

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 ounces (
75g) blue cheese, such as 
Stilton or Roquefort
2 tablespoons crushed walnuts or pecans (optional)
9 ounces (
250g) puff pastry

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (200C/
Gas 6). Trim off a little of the base of each endive (chicory) head, then halve lengthwise. Set aside.
Cut the butter into thin slices and arrange in an 8-inch ( 20cm) ovenproof sauté pan. Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the butter and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Place over a high heat and cook for 4-5 minutes until the sugar and butter begin to caramelize.
Take off the heat and arrange the chicory halves in the pan, cut-side down (pack them in tightly to cover the base). Crumble over the cheese and scatter over the nuts, if using.
Roll out the pastry on 
a lightly floured board to 1/8-inch thick (
the thickness of a £1 coin). Use 
a dinner plate, slightly larger 
than the diameter of the pan, 
as a template to cut out a neat circle. Prick the pastry round with 
a fork, then drape it over the tart, tucking it down at the sides.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for a few minutes. While still warm, turn out on to a plate and slice into four portions to serve, spooning over any juices from the base of the pan.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Nature's Path detour

Nature's Path Organic Foods is expanding a recall to include some granola bars and granola cereal products. The company says that no illnesses have been reported. The products were distributed through retail stores nationwide in the U.S. and Canada. for more details, call toll-free: 866.880.7284.
Newly recalled items sold in the U.S. include:
* Nature's Path Organic Peanut Butter Granola Cereal; 11.5 ounces; UPC 058449890096; best before dates: 17 JAN 08 through 2 SEP 09.
* Nature's Path Organic Granola Bars Variety Pack, 10 Flax Plus Pumpkin and 10 Peanut Butter Chunky; UPC 058449891055; best before dates: 5 FEB 08 through 23 JUN 09.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Treasures from the deep - deep-freeze, that is

I found a bag of calamari rings at the grocery the other day; they seemed to be at a decent price, so I bought them. On the bag, it had a recipe for calamari salad, starting with poaching the rings 1 or 2 minutes. OK, I thought, I'll follow the directions, but use them in pasta sauce instead. I've often done that with fresh squid with excellent results.

For starters, I could tell as soon as I put them in the hot liquid that they were chosen for their size, not freshness. But what was worse was they had probably been cooked 1 or 2 minutes before they had been frozen. So add on the poaching time to thaw them and they were overcooked. Chewy. Unappetizing.

A disaster? No way. 

I remembered my first taste of calamari, which wasn't like most non-Italians' experience of a mound of deep-fried rings. It was at an Italian restaurant in Philadelphia that had been the site of a mob hit just two weeks before, which meant we were the only non-Italians in the place. Alan ordered me a dish that he said I'd love, but it would be a surprise. Sure enough, it was a plate of what I thought were giant Spaghetti-Os in a very rich and spicy tomato sauce. The white rings had the texture of al dente pasta, but they were calamari.

You can cook calamari to tenderness two ways: Cook them very fast over high heat, just until they become opaque and serve them immediately; or cook them slowly over low heat for at least a half hour. They will relax and expand and become delicious once more.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ooolala - coffee with an extra kick

Using up the remainder of my Peets espresso grind Italian roast, it seemed a little strong. I thought back to my favorite afternoon drink in Provence, the cafe noisette, a small cup of espresso with a dollop of rich cream. Not having any cream on hand, just my ordinary 1 percent milk, I foamed it up and, playing off the literal meaning of noisette, added a shot of Torani hazelnut syrup. Umm, that hit the spot. Noisette, although it means hazelnut in French, refers to the color of the drink rather than the flavor. But I love the flavor of hazelnuts as well.

Rach and roll

If you're a fan of Rachael Ray (yes, I know her critics and haters are legion) and you missed her interview on "Nightline," it's worth a look (see it by clicking here).

My favorite quote of the interview: "I'm not a chef. I haven't created any new technique in the kitchen. I'm not a rocket scientist. I think I'm good at writing accessible, fun, and affordable meals for the average American family. That's what I think I'm good at."
Her business, she said, is "built for a recession."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Steers on steriods sends Roquefort to the moon

OK, since I realize that even those who regularly read the New York Times may have glanced at the headline ("Simpler, Cheaper Test For Illegal Steroids In European Cattle") and skipped reading the story ("What do European cattle have to do with me or what I eat"), I'd like to point out this little bit of parenthetical information:
Steroids are not illegal in the United States and are used extensively by beef producers.
If we don't think steroids good for athletes (they're not; I think I read a heart-wrenching story at least every month about some young man cut down in the prime of his life from overusing the stuff), why do we allow them to be used in our food?

And late last week, I heard on National Public Radio that since the European Union won't buy our drug-laden beef, the price of Roquefort cheese will be skyrocketing in the United States.

(Click on the colored words to be taken to the New York Times story and the NPR story and audio.)